The state’s environmental agency on Monday announced a crackdown on a private sewer treatment company and said it and the town of Lexington must reach a wastewater treatment agreement or face stiff fines up to $10,000 daily.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control said it’s refusing to continue discharge permits that Carolina Water Service is seeking for the Saluda River. The agency’s action comes after at least 20 years of public criticism of the company and state regulators for failing to shut down the plant.
Carolina Water and the town must hash out an agreement that ends the practice or both would be fined. They must submit to DHEC a coordinated plan within 60 days detailing how the company will connect with Lexington’s sewage pipes, which are just a few feet from the I-20 treatment plant.
“After several months of trying to get both parties to reach a solution, we have been left with no other option but to move forward with these orders,” Catherine Heigel, DHEC’s director, said in a statement. “We remain committed to protecting the health of the public and the environment, and will monitor the transition process to ensure that affected customers have uninterrupted wastewater treatment service.”
Blan Holman, of the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the state agencys announcement a “great thing,” citing the Saluda’s recreational uses. Holman represents the Congaree Riverkeeper organization in a 2015 federal lawsuit alleging years of illegal sewage discharges by the utility.
“It’s past time for (the company) to stop discharging into the Saluda River and DHEC is to be commended for doing the right thing and following the law,” Holman said.
The utility’s president, Rick Durham, said it will appeal DHEC’s decision and administrative order “given that they are based on an incomplete factual record and incorrect legal analysis.”
Durham said the appeal is not intended to block his company from connecting its lines with the town.
Carolina Water “finds it necessary to protect itself in the event that an interconnection continues to be denied by the town or is not approved by the Public Service Commission, as it must be,” Durham said.
Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, called DHEC’s decision a “huge victory for public health.”
“For far too long, Carolina Water Service has failed to comply with existing permits and has pumped an immeasurable amount of pollution into the scenic Lower Saluda River,” Setzler said in a statement. “This action by DHEC is a great first step.”
Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, also has been active in seeking a resolution to the discharges.
“Carolina Water Service has proven time and time again that they can’t comply with the regulations to protect this community and service their customers,” Smith said. “My hope is that this is the beginning of the end.”